Acts 9:1-2 ESV
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Saul, later called Paul, was a religious man, zealous for God. In his mind he had convinced himself that he was doing the will of God by persecuting followers of Jesus. For, he believed that following Jesus was somehow contrary to following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For, he believed Jesus to be a blasphemer, and he believed himself to be a warrior for God.
So, he was on a crusade to go after all those who were following Jesus and the way of the cross of Christ. He had them arrested, put in prison, severely persecuted, and some of them were put to death, as well. For, he was passionate about destroying Jesus, his followers, and his gospel message.
And this is a picture for us of how far off track some people who believe they are following the one true God can become in following their religion to the point to where they are not following God at all but some formula or some idea or some concept they adopted. So, they will end up persecuting the Lord’s true servants, convinced that they are doing right.
Now, not all who persecute the Lord’s servants and messengers are doing so out of some distorted idea of what it means to follow God. Many do so knowing full well that what they are doing is wrong, and that it is contrary to God, but they do so out of jealousy, resentment, or contempt for those who are following the Lord with their lives.
Others do so because they are listening to men instead of God, and they are following marketing schemes and business models for how to grow their churches, and thus they are being taught regarding which people they are to get rid of and which ones they want to keep.
So, those who know the Scriptures and who are serious about their walks with the Lord are often the ones they are encouraged to discard while they are encouraged to go after the biblically illiterate, the naïve, and the non-Christian so that they can conform them to their way of thinking, not to the way of the cross of Christ.
We now have this movement within the gatherings of “the church” to attack and to persecute those who are teaching the way of the cross. If we teach the gospel as Jesus taught it we are being accused of being legalistic, intolerant, unloving, and of teaching works-based salvation.
And it is the “religious” who say they believe in the same God that we do who are the ones persecuting us and who are attacking us and the gospel as Jesus taught it. So, they are guilty of persecuting Jesus, as well, for they are out to destroy his gospel and his messengers.
Acts 9:3-6 ESV
“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”
The Lord is able to change the hearts of even our worst enemies. It doesn’t mean that all of our enemies will have changed hearts and that we will no longer be persecuted for our faith, but that God has the power to change anyone no matter how far gone they may seem to be. Amen!
We can all take encouragement with that! But, when I speak of changed hearts, Paul is a perfect example of what that means. I am not speaking of those who merely make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ while they go on living in sin and claim how wonderful God’s grace is for saving them.
Paul’s heart transformation was real. He was a persecutor and a murderer of Christ’s followers. But Jesus turned his heart around, and he became not only a follower of Jesus but a profound voice for the gospel of Christ. He no longer persecuted the Lord’s saints. And he no longer walked in sin.
Now he followed Jesus Christ with his whole life, and he walked according to the Spirit and no longer according to the flesh. Now he was the persecuted for his faith and for his testimony for Jesus Christ, and he ended up writing half of the New Testament books under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
So, if you are convinced that you are too far gone for the Lord to save you, think again. But understand that our salvation is not a “quick fix” just so we can go to heaven when we die. True salvation takes place when we die with Christ to sin and we are reborn of the Spirit of God, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24).
But not only can we take encouragement from Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion, that the Lord can do that in our lives, too, but I saw another lesson here, too, and that is that how we treat others is how we treat Jesus. Saul was persecuting Jesus because he was persecuting his servants. When we show God’s love to others, we are loving Jesus, too.
Acts 9:7-9 ESV
“The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
Paul, formerly called Saul, soon became a profound voice for the Way which he had formerly persecuted. Soon after his conversion he was proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Then he began to face persecution, too. The Jews plotted to kill him. And the Christians were afraid of him, for they did not believe his conversion was genuine. But Barnabas helped the believers in Jesus to accept Paul. Thus, Paul was able to preach boldly in the name of Jesus throughout Jerusalem.
And when our hearts are transformed of the Spirit of God, and we forsake our sins to follow Jesus in obedience to his ways, we are going to be hated and persecuted, too, even by others who call themselves Christians. But the Lord is our support, and he will make the way for us to share him.
We just have to trust the Lord fully with our lives, believing he is fully sovereign over all that he has made. And we must go with God in doing what he has called us to do, despite all persecution and attempts to stop us from spreading the truth of the gospel.
God will make a way for us where there seems to be no way. We just have to rest in him and wait on him and then just follow his lead.
When in The Stillness
An Original Work / September 26, 2011
When in the stillness of this moment,
Speak to me, Lord, I humbly pray.
Be my desire, set me on fire,
Teach me to love always.
Help me to walk in fellowship with You,
Listening to You; sit at Your feet.
Whisper Your words to me,
Oh, how gently, guiding me in Your truth.
While we are waiting for Your blessing,
Lord, in our hearts be King today.
Help us to live for you ev’ry moment,
List’ning to what You say.
May we not stray from your word within us,
Help us obey You, Lord, in all things,
Walking each moment, Lord, in Your presence,
Our offerings to You bring.
Help us to love You, Lord, our master;
Be an example of Your love,
Helping the hurting, lift up the fallen,
Showing them Your great love.
Teach them to love You, follow You always,
Bearing their cross and turning from sin;
Walking in daily fellowship with You,
Making You Lord and King.